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Google executive arrested in Brazil as the company resists orders to freeze political speech on YouTube

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A streak of chilling effects

Brazilian Federal Police
Brazilian Federal Police

According to Globo, Google executive Fabio José Silva Coelho has been arrested by federal police in Brazil, after the company refused a judge's order to remove a controversial political video from YouTube. Judge Flavio Peren ordered Coelho's arrest for violating Brazil's election laws, which prohibits attack ads that defame candidates in the lead-up to an election. As Reuters reports, a Google spokesperson says that the company is appealing the decision "because, as a platform, Google is not responsible for the content posted to its site." We are still waiting for Google to respond to our own inquiry about the arrest, but the company has made similar arguments in the past when confronted with local interpretations of free speech.

Coelho's arrest follows a similar row earlier this month when an electoral court ordered the arrest of Google executive Edmundo Luiz Pinto Balthazar for refusing to remove a video on YouTube that mocked a candidate for mayor, Reuters reports. Reuters says Google responded strongly to the order, stating at the time that "voters have a right to use the internet to freely express their opinions about candidates for political office, as a form of full exercise of democracy, especially during electoral campaigns." But as Reuters reports, Balthazar's arrest order was overturned by another judge just days after it was issued.

With Google holding the line against requests to remove its content, future disagreements are likely

G1 reports that the charge is considered a "minor offense," and that Coelho will be released sometime today — though the law reportedly stipulates that offenders can be jailed for up to one year. It's not clear what kind of long-term consequences will face Google executives in the country, but with the company holding the line against requests to remove its content, future disagreements are likely. The Associated Press reports that in a separate but related incident today, a Brazilian court ordered a ban on Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islam video that provoked worldwide protests.